Rega Aphelion 2

Hardware Review

Rega Aphelion 2
Friday, May 22, 2020
moving coil cartridge
Jason Kennedy

One of the first notes I made after installing the Aphelion 2 in a Rega P10 was: it’s not going to do anyone’s vinyl habit any good. Three months and several hundred tracks later I realise that not only does this cartridge make you want to listen to more vinyl but if that vinyl is of approximately the same vintage as the recording you won’t want to do anything else. In other words, remasters won’t do, not even audiophile ones in most cases. But to get back to the beginning the Aphelion 2 might look very much like any of Rega’s metal bodied moving coil cartridges but there are small but significant differences that put it in a completely different league.

We have become used to the idea that moving coil cartridges can cost thousands of pounds but when a company with a high value ethos like Rega produces one that is nearly three times more expensive than the model beneath it, questions have to be asked. On paper the differences between Aphelion 2 and Apheta 3 appear to come down to a boron cantilever on the former and an aluminium one on the Apheta 3, both have ‘fine line’ styli, an aluminium body, a tiny neodymium magnet and Rega’s tie-wire free cantilever fixing system.

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Winding coils onto the tiny iron cross of an Aphelion cantilever by hand takes considerable skill and patience

Rega’s MD Phil Freeman explained that there is a lot more to it than that, for a start the Aphelion has a more powerful magnet which allows for fewer coil windings on the iron cross at the top of the cantilever, less mass here means faster recovery at the stylus and equals greater detail retrieval from the groove. The Aphelion 2 also has a very different fine line stylus that rather than being bonded onto the tip is fixed in a slot at the end of the cantilever for an even stiffer connection. The critical element that differentiates this Aphelion from its predecessor is the stylus profile, this was developed with Ogura of Japan and is unique to Rega, it has fine ridges on the sides that ‘read’ a wider patch of the groove in order to deliver higher frequencies than other tip profiles. 

The other key differentiation between Aphelion and Apheta is the grading of the body, just as Rega select the very best bearings for their top tonearm they also measure every machined aluminium cartridge body and save the most accurate for Aphelion. The differences between an Apheta body and an Aphelion one are tiny, too small to see without magnification, but not as tiny as the modulations in a vinyl groove: when it comes to maximum data extraction very high precision counts. That said all this was true of the first Aphelion, which remains a fabulous cartridge and one that I enjoyed thrilling results with for several years, but the Aphelion 2 with its new stylus is a giant leap for cartridge kind, it really is a milestone. Initially it seems to be on the bright side, incredibly fast and immediate but short on body, but after a few weeks it calms down and you are left with the most revealing, highest resolution sound yet encountered with vinyl. Which can be a mixed blessing when it comes to my first point about pressings, the differences between earlier and later examples with music from the 70s is huge. Original pressings have long been in demand for this reason but the sound quality gulf has never been so wide, I have actually started selling some highly regarded audiophile pressings of classic albums because the older ones sound so much more alive and exciting.

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As a reviewer I am familiar with the thrills of finding a great component, one that reinvigorates my enthusiasm for music I know well. It doesn’t happen very often but it’s what makes this pursuit interesting, and usually I can carry on in fairly orderly manner during and after the experience. Here I have been having vinyl slew problems, in other words I have been failing to put the records away properly because of the urgency to hear another one. That hasn’t happened for quite a few years in truth, even the Rega RP10 and subsequent P10 which are undoubtedly game changers, didn’t result in piles of records cropping up around the room. The Aphelion 2 on the P10 makes for an astonishingly exciting and engaging musical experience, one that had me using expletives in an attempt to get my enthusiasm down in the notes. Steely Dan’s ‘Show biz kids’ (Countdown to Ecstasy) being a prime example of a track that I’ve played to death yet which offered up so much more detail with this record player (and the able assistance of a Tom Evans Groove+ SRX phono stage), it is positively deadly as my Irish cousins might say. A well worn 70s pressing of Beefheart’s Clearspot is a serious improvement over the 180g repress that came out in the 90s, the energy and life that the Aphelion 2 digs out of the groove in the older version is just glorious. 

But even near original copies of some records just don’t have enough meat on the bone, Led Zeppelin III for instance appears to have been cut to suit the thick stodgy sound of 70s turntables. Not a bad commercial move at the time of course but it’s notable that the more successful untitled album that followed it (LZ IV as it’s known) sounds considerably more beefy, especially Black Dog which is absolutely spectacular, the guitar work is nothing short of stunning. Rumours likewise sounds superb, the balance is spot on, proving that great engineering stands the test of time with ease. Another standout that hit me like a bolt of lightning was Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ where the intensity of the first guitar break, the power of the following vocal and the ferocity of the final guitar solo left me a quivering wreck. This track has always been the highlight of OK Computer but here it turned into a towering inferno, and there was no need to crank it to get that effect, it’s all there in the multi-layered picture that so much detail produces.

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Aphelion 2 comes in a machined aluminium case with a Rega torque wrench

I am a speed freak, there I’ve said it, where’s my support group! Immediacy is what makes recorded music sound like the real thing to me and the Aphelion 2 on the P10 does this so well that I can’t stop staying up late listening to music old and new. It does wide bandwidth with meaty, weighty bass that is incredibly nimble but powerful too. It does image scale, depth and three dimensionality with ease when the requisite information is in the groove, and it does tonal finesse that will keep a tube lover’s head in the clouds. In effect this cartridge makes your record collection a voyage of discovery, where you get to hear right into every recording and find out how it was put together. There is so much potential for variety when making a recording, from the performance, the studio, the equipment, the mixing right through to the mastering, that records should sound totally different from one another, yet so many turntable and cartridge combinations have a homogenising effect that blurs these differences. This Rega pairing does the opposite, it really shows you what the artist, engineers and producers did. A good example is Stevie Wonder’s fabulous Innervisions, this has a slight thickening/warmth to it but wide dynamic range for a pop album and wide bandwidth. At the other end of the spectrum Television’s Marquee Moon sounds thin and etched yet the music is powerful and palpable and the track ‘Venus’ positively mind blowing. Zappa’s ‘The ocean is the ultimate solution’ is such a strange composite of instruments and sounds that I had to research it in an attempt to verify the use of double and electric bass, various electric guitars and Terry Bozzio’s intense drumming throughout. It’s a track that starts out as a jazz-rock workout but slides into an atonality that is generally not that appealing toward the end, here the emphasis on the music rather than the ‘sound’ made the whole piece engaging with no tendency to turn it down when the ‘difficult’ bit came along.

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This cartridge is a revelation, there’s no other word for it. In combination with the Rega P10 it resolves detail that you hadn’t imagined was in the groove, it cuts through the myth of vinyl warmth to reveal that this format is as neutral and capable of high resolution as anything, especially any format that offers a wide variety of material to suit all tastes. If you want to know exactly what your records sound like it is very highly recommended.

Specifications: 

Type: Moving coil cartridge
Body: Graded zero tolerance aluminium
Cantilever: Boron rod
Stylus: fine line profile nude diamond
Tracking Pressure 1.9g
Input load impedance 100 ohms
Output impedance 10 ohms
Nominal output voltage 350μV
Channel Balance : ≥ 10μV
Separation : ≥ -29dB
Mass: 6gm
Warranty: lifetime

Price: 
£3,149
Manufacturer Details: 

Rega Research
T 01702 333071
www.rega.co.uk

Comments

Hi, I have a planner 6 with ania cartridge, whose stylus got damaged recently due to mishandling and it banged against something in the TT and it broke so now I need to buy a new cartridge. I enjoyed the planner 6 with ania cartridge a lot, I have McIntosh 7900 integrated amplifier and sonus faber venereal S speakers, now I am wondering if I should upgrade to rp10 with aphelion 2 cartridge or just go for the ania with my rp6 if the quality of sound does not change significantly as the rp10 with aphelion 2 will cost about £6000,

Another question i have is what are the other good turntables u can go for in this price range, your reply will be highly appreciated. Thanks

By Ash

Hi Ash, the RP10 and Aphelion 2 is a very big upgrade over the P6, the P10/Aphelion 2 is even bigger and a very hard record player to beat. If you can afford the P10 with any cartridge I would go for that, if the price is too high the Apheta 3 is also excellent. I don't know of any other turntables at this price that are in the same league.

Thanks for your reply. Is rp10 and p10 different models of rega TT, if so what's the difference? Do you think that mu supporting McIntosh integrated amplifier 7900 and sonus faber venere S speakers a good fit for rp10 or a p10 or even these need an equivalent upgrade, do I need a MC Phono stage, if so which one would you recommend for p10 or rp10,

Also wondering will the sound quality also improve a lot when I upgrade to rp10/p10 compared to rp6 with ania cartridge and will the sound quality upgrade be commensurate with the high cost increase. Thanks , looking forward to your comments

By Ash

The P10 is the best production turntable that Rega makes, it is significantly better than the RP10 and represents a very big step up from the P6. I would recommend the P10 for your system with the Aphelion 2 and either the Aria or Aura phono stage depending on budget.

So you think I can get the best of p10 with aphelion 2, with McIntosh integrated amplifier 7900 and venere S sonus faber speakers along with Aria,

Aura is certainly out of budget.

I was just wondering do I need an upgrade on the amp and speakers also when I upgrade from p6 to p10 with aphelion.

Thanks for all you quick responses.

By Ash

I am purchasing a P10 with Aphelion 2 and have a McIntosh MA12000 Integrated with built in MC phono stage. Can I run the P10 though the MA12000 with reasonable success or should I go with something else?

Hi Conrad, I would imagine that the McIntosh phno stage would do a good job but it's hard to say whether its phono stage will be able to reveal the full capability of the Rega P10/Aphelion 2. I would try it for a while and then audition a separate phono stage such as the Rega Aria or Aura to see if it's worth going down that route.

I have 2 options to go for
1. Buy p10 with aphelion cartridge or
2. I upgrade my p6 rega TT from ania cartridge to apheta three (3) cartridge
I pay almost 5.5 times extra prize compared to buying apheta 3.

Any suggestions, I tested the p10 with aphelion 2 cartridge and its great but dunno if its worth paying £6350 for it while I can get a apheta 3 for £1150 but I can't test it on my system and compare both together.

Thanks for your suggestion

By Ash

If you want to hear what your vinyl is really capable of them the P10 is very hard to beat regardless of price. If you can afford the P10 with any Rega MC cartridge that's what we would advise, the P10/Aphelion 2 is a truly exceptional combination and that sort of is never cheap.